According to Anschutz Entertainment Group President/CEO Tim Leiweke, if a press release had never been issued regarding the potential sale of AEG two days ago, "No one would have ever noticed the change."
While the announcement of AEG being on the block has created a furor in the sports and entertainment industry, Leiweke considers that an over-reaction. "People act like this is going to be some seismic earthquake within our company and it won't be," Leiweke tells Billboard.biz. "We won't miss a beat."
Leiweke, 55, cited the stability in AEG's upper management as a testament to the company's preparedness to transition to new ownership. That includes commitment to bringing the National Football League back to Los Angeles and building a downtown stadium with a naming rights deal in place with Farmers Insurance.
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"The reality is the management team here has been the same management team since we started this," he says. "I hired these people, I brought them together, we've had very little change here. I have the same people I've had all along in this process. Everyone's re-upped, everyone's committed long term, I'm going to be cutting the ribbon at Farmers Field. And, with all due respect to Mr. Anschutz, the people that run this thing day-to-day are not going anywhere, and we're still as committed."
It was that day-to-day management team that negotiated with the City to build the stadium, Leiweke points out, again stressing AEG's on-going commitment to the project. "The fact is, AEG is the corporation that entered into the agreement with the city and will enter into the agreement with the NFL on Farmer's Field, not Phil Anschutz or the Anschutz Corporation," Leiweke says. "This was always driven by AEG. We're not going away, we're not going to change. In fact, we're going to dramatically continue to grow as we go on in time. This is an investment change, this is not an organizational change. This is phase II of AEG, and I predict our best years are ahead of us, not behind us."
Leiweke declined to confirm the reported price tag of between $7 and $8 billion for AEG. "The price is what someone's willing to pay for it, so we'll see what that may be," he says. However, he did confirm that the company would not be broken up. "That's not gonna happen. These assets are inter-connected. Our ticketing company ties into our facility management company ties into our real estate development company ties into our content company ties into our sports company. We don't do things for the purpose of a simple investment, we do things for the purpose of a simple operational company. That's the uniqueness of AEG and we're not breaking the pieces apart."
As for speculation that a local consortium, including management, would be involved in the new ownership group, Leiweke says, "I would say that there is a philosophy of participation that has existed and will continue to exist in the company. We all have a vested interest in this company today and we'll have a vested interest in this company tomorrow."
The AEG model of building first-class venues and programming them with sports and entertainment is simple in theory but, "It is not easy to do," Leiweke says. "It has taken a lot of Phil's money and our time and energy over the last 15 years. I consider myself to be a young man, and I consider not only our best days ahead of us, we happen to be working on a few things in the company that are going to be as dynamic and big for us as the O2 [in London] and L.A. Live were."
Leiweke repeatedly expressed confidence in the future of AEG under new ownership, and hinted at the timing behind the announcement. "We have come to a point where it's important to find the next phase for AEG and the next owner for AEG, because [Anschutz] is 73 years old, and he does want to go through some planning and a different phase of his life, and I completely respect that," he says. "We've always operated under the understanding that this was an equity investment, and I'd have to cooperate with him to get an exit strategy. That's all this is."